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Lake ecosystem critical to East African food supply is threatened by climate change

ARLINGTON, Va.- In an important new study directly linking climatic warming with the survival of lake organisms, researchers have found multiple lines of evidence showing that increasing air and water temperatures and related factors are shrinking fish and algae populations in a major lake. The lake holds 18 percent of the world's liquid freshwater and is a critical food source in East Africa.

Reporting in the August 14, 2003, issue of the journal Nature, Catherine O'Reilly of Vassar College, Andrew Cohen of the University of Arizona, Simone Alin of the University of Washington, Pierre-Denis Plisnier of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Belgium, and Brent McKee of Tulane University in Louisiana, announce that climate change in the region is harming Lake Tanganyika's ecosystem, decreasing fish stocks by as much as 30 percent over the past 80 years.

Lake Tanganyika is large and deep, filling the chasm of a rift valley bordering the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Zambia and Burundi. An ecosystem unto itself, the lake supports many types of fish. Only a few species are eaten by people, yet they supply 25 to 40 percent of the animal protein for the communities of that region. Recently, the fish supplies have diminished, and catches are shrinking.

"Our research provides the strongest link to date between long-term changes in lake warming in the tropics, recorded by instruments, and declining productivity of the lake's ecosystem, as seen in sediment cores," said Cohen. "This work provides a clear indication of the regional effects of global climate change, and especially global warming, on tropical lake ecosystems."

The researchers measured lake water temperatures, along with air temperatures and wind velocities, and compared data to equivalent records from the past eight decades. Those factors help determine how well water circulates within the lake, a critical factor for the distribution of nutrien
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Contact: Josh Chamot
jchamot@nsf.gov
703-292-7730
National Science Foundation
13-Aug-2003


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